Tag Archives: communication

Human encouragement and how it may help dogs solve problems

Human encouragement might influence how dogs solve problems, according to a new Oregon State University study.

The study, published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science, sheds light on how people influence animal behavior, said study lead author Lauren Brubaker, a doctoral student in OSU’s Human-Animal Interaction Lab.

Brubaker evaluated the behavior of search and rescue dogs and pet dogs when presented with the same problem-solving task. Both sets of dogs persisted at the task for about the same proportion of time, but the search and rescue dogs were more successful at solving the task when encouraged by their owners.

However, the search and rescue dogs didn’t solve the task when they were alone. Further, pet dogs that solved the task with their owner present – but not encouraging them – also solved it when they were alone, Brubaker said.

“We thought that was unusual,” Brubaker said. “Because search and rescue dogs are trained to work independently, we expected that they would out-perform pet dogs on this independent task and that wasn’t the case. This suggests that the behavior of the owner, including their expectation of their dog and how they engage with their dog on a day-to-day basis, may influence the dog during a problem-solving task.

“This leads us to believe that communication between search and rescue dogs and their owner could be more effective than communication between pet dogs and their owners,” she said.

In the study, the dogs were given a solvable task with a person present: open a puzzle box containing a sausage within two minutes. They compared a group of 28 search and rescue dogs and a group of 31 pet dogs.

Search and rescue dogs were used as a comparison to pet dogs because they are traditionally trained to work independently from their owner. The search and rescue dogs were provided by Mountain Wave Search and rescue in Portland, Douglas County Search and Rescue in Roseburg, and Benton County Search and Rescue in Corvallis.

Pet dogs were recruited at random from the community through online advertisement and by way of word of mouth. Data from pet dogs from a 2015 study conducted by Udell were also used in the analysis. The dogs in both groups were from a variety of breeds.

The dogs were given the puzzle box under two conditions: alone in the room, and with their owner in the room standing neutrally. During the neutral phase, owners were instructed to stand in the room with their arms by their side and to avoid communicating with the dog. In the encouragement condition, the owner was instructed to encourage the dog however they saw appropriate, typically by using verbal praise or gestures, but without touching the dog or the container and without making contact with the dog or the container.

Before each condition the owner was instructed to “bait” the container by picking the container up, placing the food inside the container while the dog watched, and showing it to the dog to allow the dog to see that the container had food in it. Then they placed it on the ground in a designated location. In the neutral-human condition, the owner took three steps back and stood neutrally for two minutes. During the alone condition the owner left the room after placing the object on the ground.

In the human-neutral condition, three of the pet dogs and two of search and rescue dogs solved the task. Two pet dogs solved the task in the alone condition. In the encouragement condition, nine of the search and rescue dogs solved the task, while only two pet dogs did.

“When the owner’s social cues direct the dog towards the independent problem-solving task, then we see something interesting,” said Monique Udell, an animal scientist who directs the Human-Animal Interaction Lab in the College of Agricultural Sciences. “While most dogs increase the amount of time they spend attending to the puzzle when encouraged, pet dogs often end up treating the puzzle like a toy. Instead of engaging in goal directed behavior, they act as if their owner was encouraging them to play.”

Udell continued, “It’s possible that when directed by their owners, search and rescue dogs instead see opening the box as their job. Their owners may be more effective at communicating about the task at hand. Or maybe there is something inherently different about dogs that are selected for search and rescue that makes them more apt to solve the problem. More research is needed to know for sure.”

Source:  Oregon State University media statement

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Dog-directed speech is more effective with puppies

 A small team of researchers from the U.S., the U.K. and France has found that puppies are more receptive to dog-directed speech than are adult dogs.
In their paper published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the researchers describe experiments they conducted recording human voices and playing them back to dogs, what they found, and what it might mean for human communications.
dog

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Most everyone has heard dog-directed speech, which is similar to speech patterns some use when talking to infants—the voice gets higher, the words come out slower and there is a sort of sing-song phrasing.  (i.e. baby talk) Some of the phrases are familiar as well, such as “Who’s a good boy?” In this new effort, the researchers looked into the use of dog-directed speech seeking to learn if there might be any modulating factors in its use.

The experiments consisted of asking 30 female human volunteers to look at pictures of dogs while reading a script consisting of typical dog-directed speech phrases into a microphone to make recordings. The recordings were then played to 10 puppies and 10 adult dogs at an animal shelter as the researchers watched and recorded their reactions.

The researchers report that the volunteers tended to raise their voices in ways similar to people speaking to human infants regardless of the age of the dog they were looking at, though it was noted that the voices were raised slightly higher for puppies than for adult dogs. They also report that at the animal shelter, the puppies responded very clearly to the voices coming from the speakers, acting as if they wanted to play. The adult dogs, on the other hand, after a quick investigation, ignored the recordings altogether.

The researchers were not able to explain why the humans spoke in dog-directed speech or why the puppies responded to it while the adult dogs did not, but suggest that humans likely respond to puppies in much the same way they respond to babies—and babies have been shown to respond more to baby-directed speech. As for why the older dogs were not interested, it might have been the case that they were simply older and wiser—they could see very clearly there was no human present speaking to them, so they chose to ignore whatever was being said.

(DoggyMom’s comment:  Smart dogs!)

Source:  Phys.org

Full journal reference:

  1. Tobey Ben-Aderet, Mario Gallego-Abenza, David Reby, Nicolas Mathevon. Dog-directed speech: why do we use it and do dogs pay attention to it? Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2017; 284 (1846): 20162429 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2016.2429